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Mr. Goodman : I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way again. Will he acknowledge that the Joint Committee also wanted the cover for depression to be extendedalbeit, it is true, not exactly along the lines of Lord Skelmersdale's amendment?
Alan Johnson: I accept that. Of course, as the hon. Gentleman knowshe was a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committeewe have provided such an extension, but we have not gone to the lengths that some in the other place wanted. However, it is reasonable to use this review and the work being undertaken by the DRC to resolve some of the underlying problems raised in the other place.
I turn to the second issue, which is cancers. The DDA already covers many people with cancer, and the Bill, by covering cancers from diagnosis, extends protection to an additional 145,000 people. In line with the original disability rights task force recommendation, it protects people with potentially long-term asymptomatic conditions who are likely to face stigma, not those with readily treatable, short-term conditions who are not to our knowledge experiencing any discrimination.
We have however undertaken not to use regulation-making powers to exclude any readily treatable cancers from automatic coverage until we have reviewed the actual evidence of discrimination with the DRC, Macmillan Cancer Relief and others. We have also
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ensured that the regulations will receive the highest level of parliamentary scrutinyaffirmative procedureso that Parliament can hold the Government to account. The DRC has stated that
Finally and crucially, I want to mention these measures' effect on schools. The general duty on the public sector to promote equality for disabled people is laid out clearly in the Bill. But the Bill also gives regulation-making powers to the Secretary of State that allow the placing of specific duties on prescribed bodies, in order to help those bodies to understand how the duty applies to their situation, and in order to require them to demonstrate that they have given strategic thought to the needs of disabled people.
These are crucial provisions for addressing the thoughtlessness and institutional discrimination that have held back disabled people for too long. The general duty will apply across the public sector, and I want to ensure that key public bodies are subject to the specific duties, in order to help them to implement the general duty effectively when regulations are set out in the summer.
Schools have an especially significant bearing on the life chances of disabled people, and they play a crucial role in combating prejudice and equipping disabled children with the qualifications and skills that they need to participate fully in society and to realise their true potential. There is still far too large a gap between the academic results of disabled people and those of their non-disabled peers. In 2003, 24 per cent. of disabled people aged 16 to 24 had no qualifications whatsoever, compared with 13 per cent. of non-disabled people of the same age. But it is important to ensure that any extra requirements that we place on schools are proportionate. We have learned lessons from the experience of the duty to promote race equality, and this Bill will give rise to a far less bureaucratic regime.
So we are clear that any regulations must apply sufficiently flexibly to schools. They must avoid requiring schools to produce unnecessary paperwork, instead allowing them to fulfil any duty by using existing mechanismssuch as their annual reportto demonstrate that they are thinking about how they serve disabled people. We will need to tailor regulations to achieve this, and to listen carefully to the schools themselves. But I am also clear that schools cannot simply be exempt from these duties. Failing to find a way to include schools would not just mean that we had failed to deliver full civil rights; it would fundamentally weaken our longer-term ability to achieve the step change in public attitudes that is so crucial to delivering our longer-term vision of a society of equal rights and opportunities for all.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way again. He and I share a common interest in schools, as former education Ministers. I am pleased that he has confirmed that this duty will apply, and that he is trying to think of lateral ways to discharge it without excessive cost. Have he or his colleagues in the
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Department for Education and Skills assessed the likely unit cost to schools of any such regime, in order to ensure that it is bearable?
Alan Johnson: We have not taken our discussions that far, but the "single conversation" taking place in education is the natural place to deal with such matters. However, I can inform the House that schools in England and Wales will be listed as bodies with specific duties to promote disability equality.
I believe that, in years to come, the mistreatment of disabled people that was typical of the last centuryand which is still too often the case todaywill be seen as the affront to humanity that it is.
Tom Levitt: Before my right hon. Friend sits down, I want to put on the recordon behalf, I hope, of several Members currently in the Chamberthat it was a privilege to serve on the scrutiny Committee not just because we produced some 70 very sensible amendments, but because the Government, in the light of events in another place, accepted more than 80 per cent. of them. That illustrates the great common sense shown by the Governmenta common sense reflected only in that of the scrutiny Committee.
Alan Johnson: I thank my hon. Friend for his involvement in that Committee, which was extremely successful. Just to be absolutely accurate, there were 75 recommendations, 61 of which81 per cent.have been accepted.
As my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), said, this is the great emancipation issue of our time. Today in this Chamber, Members have an opportunity to strike a lasting blow against disability discrimination. We are past the point of party politics. We have a Bill that has been heavily scrutinised and amended in the light of helpful and intelligent contributions from all parts of the House. I would like to pay tribute to the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), for all her tremendous work in leading our cause, and to pay tribute to all Members of this House and of the other place who have championed disability rights and helped us to scrutinise the Bill properly.
As I said, we responded positively to 61 recommendations of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, making concessions in the other place on issues such as cancers, rail vehicles and improvements to rented property. Today, we have committed ourselves to regulations that will ensure that schools promote disability equality. Disabled people want this Bill and our society needs this Bill, so we have a duty to put it on the statute book. I commend it to the House.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con):
We welcome this Disability Discrimination Bill, which builds upon the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 that we introduced when in government. The Bill has been widely welcomed by disabled people and disability organisations, and we want to see it on the statute book.
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The Disability Rights Commission has applauded the work done by Conservatives in the other place in
"getting this key disability rights legislation into such good shape. They have given it thorough scrutiny resulting in many positive gains for disabled people and are joining us in pressing for speedy enactment."
However, although the Bill was quite a good one when it was first considered in another placeand although it is, as the DRC says, a much improved Bill after that considerationit comes very late in this Parliament. Because it comes so late, the House now looks as though it will have little opportunity, if any, to improve it further, though I note what the Secretary of State said. Many disabled people fear that the Bill may somehow be lost in the wash-up as the coming general election approaches, and not reach the statute book at all.
I want to explain how that regrettable situation has come about. The Bill was first presaged as long ago as March 2001four years agoin "Towards Inclusion", the Government's final response to "From Exclusion to Inclusion", a report by the Disability Rights Task Force. In their response, the Government proposed, for example, that
That proposal is duly encapsulated in clause 18 and it is but one example of the link between the Government's response four years ago and the present Bill. The Government's response then went to consultation.
The manifesto confirmed the Government's intention to bring a Bill before Parliament. Two and half years later in October 2003, the Government declared that a Bill on disability discrimination would complete its parliamentary passage before the next electionthe coming electionand that a draft Bill would go before a Joint Committee of both Houses.
At that point, many disabled people and disability organisations began to express heightened anxiety because they believed that the Joint Committee report and the Government response to it could push back the introduction of a Bill to the very late stages of this Parliament, and that scrutiny would therefore be telescoped and truncated. Those anxieties have been justified, because it looks as though that is exactly what will happen. We consider the Bill today on Second Reading. In other words, it has taken four years from the Government response to the taskforce report to the introduction of the Bill in the elected Chamber.
Irrespective of what the Deputy Prime Minister said earlier today, a general election is expected on 5 May, so the House expects to be dissolved no later than 11 April. Furthermore, the Easter break lies between now and that date. The House is therefore unlikelyI put it no higher than thatto have a full Committee stage, if any, or a full Report stage, if any, in which further to improve the Bill by taking into account the suggestions for improvement that disability organisations have made.
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